Four years after Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams brought the spirit of Bollywood into the heart of the West End, an authentic Indian musical celebrating the colour and signature style of Bollywood movies is being brought to the UK this autumn. The Merchants of Bollywood has a cast of 40 dancers, singers, actors and musicians direct from Film City Mumbai, and is presented in the UK by Harvey Goldsmith, the man behind the Live Aid and Live8 concerts.

Following a successful tour in Australia, The Merchants of Bollywood receives its UK premiere at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre on 24 October 2006. It then tours to Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow, Bradford, Cambridge, Cardiff before transferring to London’s Hammersmith Apollo for a limited Christmas season from 21 December 2006 to 7 January 2007.

At a press conference held today at the Indian High Commission in London, writer and director Toby Gough said: “For most people in the UK, this will be a hugely entertaining beginners’ guide, a bit of an education about Bollywood. And for those who know and love it, the show will give them the opportunity to experience the magic live on stage by the people who created the movies and the songs that have become international hits.” Goldsmith commented: “You get a whole lot of India in two hours.”

Featuring original music by Salim and Sulaiman Merchant and choreographed by leading film choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant (pictured), on whose life the story is based, The Merchants of Bollywood follows the clash of generations and ambition among Bollywood stars. It’s described as “a potent mixture of dreams and sacrifices, family rebellion and romance”.

Vaibhavi Merchant’s Bollywood box office hits include Lagaan, Devdas, Rang de Basanti and Dhoom. She’s currently working on the remake of Umrao Jaan, starring Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwariya Rai. The choreographer told reporters at today’s event: “This has been a very enriching experience for me. My grandfather was also a choreographer, it is in my family, and it was my grandmother who inspired me to follow in his footsteps.”

She continued: “I wanted to create a new and truly authentic show that audiences across the world could relate to. Bollywood has become a huge industry, not just for Asians, but for everyone. Anyone with even a remote interest in Asian culture will know about Bollywood, but may not have experienced it in all its glory. The Merchants of Bollywood is colourful, dynamic, vibrant and for me the most exciting project I have worked on. The UK has shown a growing fascination for Indian films, and I wanted to bring some of the amazing talent that is a core part of Indian films to the UK for audiences to get a live Bollywood experience.”

The show’s creators also emphasised that The Merchants of Bollywood is different to Bombay Dreams - the Lloyd Webber-produced musical with a score by AR Rahman and book by Meera Syal, which premiered in June 2002 at the West End’s Apollo Victoria where it ran for two years - because it is entirely authentic and the cast is comprised of genuine Bollywood film stars.

Harvey Goldsmith said of his involvement as the production’s backer: “I was taken to see the show by a friend in Australia and fell in love with it on the spot. I was just enveloped by the fantastic atmosphere in the audience. The team have created a truly amazing spectacle of colour and culture, for which I can take no credit at all. I am just giving UK audiences the opportunity to be a part of an invigorating and extraordinary experience.”

- by Caroline Ansdell